Chavez, Lebanon, & Iraq


reports indicate an official U.S. concern over Venezuelan President
Chavez’s purchase of new weapons and the threat that this might
set off a local arms race, help him support terrorists, and point
to more grandiose and expansionist plans on his part. The worried
Rumsfeld asks why Chavez could possibly want to buy 100,000 AK-47s
from Russia; Otto Reich speaks of “the emerging axis of subversion
between Venezuela and Cuba”; and the Pentagon’s top Latin
American official, Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, says, “We need to
have a strategy to contain Chavez” (Jim Lobe, “Washington
Focuses on Southern ‘Axis of Evil’,”


, March 24, 2005; Rowan Scarborough, “Russian arms
sale to Chavez irks U.S.,” the

Washington Times

, February
10, 2005; Juan Forero, “Arms Buying By Venezuela Worries U.S.,”

New York Times

, February 15, 2005). 

press reports don’t mention the possibility that weapons might
be needed by Venezuela for self-defense against a real U.S. threat
or to counter-balance the weapons supplied by the United States
to its client government in Colombia. The idea that what the United
States might really be worried about is the threat of independence
and a good example—of possible governmental service to ordinary
citizens—and of Chavez’s importance in an emerging left-oriented
solidarity bloc in Latin America, is also something the press will
never entertain (see Seth R. DeLong, “Venezuela and the Latin
American New Left: To Washington’s Chagrin, Chávez’s
Influence Continues to Spread Throughout the Continent,”
This is in the great media tradition of the double standard and
denial of any right of self-defense on the part of U.S. targets. 

hints that Chavez poses an expansionary threat is also in the great
tradition of propaganda deployment of the word “containment.”
Containing the Soviet Union was allegedly the heart of U.S. foreign
policy during the Cold War from 1945-1991, although an oddity was
that except for the Afghanistan invasion—actually deliberately
provoked, as Brzezinski has proudly indicated, to exhaust the Soviet
Union—the Soviets never moved beyond their borders and the
adjacent Eastern European satellites accepted as part of their sphere
of influence at Yalta. Meanwhile, since World War II the United
States has: 

  • Invaded distant
    Vietnam, Cambodia, and Lebanon. 

  • Bombed an estimated
    26 countries. 

  • Participated
    in the overthrow of governments in Indonesia, the Philippines,
    Zaire, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, and Brazil, among 40 or so foreign
    governments it has attempted to remove. 

  •  “Constructively
    engaged” apartheid and regional aggressor South Africa for
    many years and has supported apartheid and ethnic-cleansing Israel
    for half a century. 

  • Established
    military bases across the globe (which the Soviet Union did not

  • Pushed the arms
    race, in part to try to impoverish the Soviet Union, in part to
    give it an edge permitting the ready projection of power. 

  • Trained many
    thousands of military and security personnel at the School of
    the Americas, who went home to help establish a string of National
    Security States in the U.S. backyard, 

  • Used the IMF
    and World Bank, plus economic and military power, to bring many
    Third World countries into a state of dependency and subordination.

  • The United States
    also claimed to be “containing” virtually all of its
    small victims: Guatemala, Vietnam, Cuba, Iraq, Nicaragua, and
    even Grenada. (In most of these cases the small neighbors of the
    U.S. victim failed to see any urgent threat and had to be coerced
    into agreeing that the U.S.’s target was a menace and accepting
    the need for containing action.) 

All through this period, although it was quite evident from the
“facts on the ground” that it was the United States that
needed containing, U.S. power and ideological command were sufficiently
great that the Orwellian inversion was an established truth in the
West: the Soviet Union was expansionist and needed containing; the
United States was responsive, defensive, and not itself expansionist.
In short, containment was a superb cover for imperial expansion. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the aggressive projection of
force and expansionism in its wake should have awakened folks captured
by the old package of ideology, lies, and myths to the reality of
what went on from 1945-1991 and to the even greater present menace
of U.S. imperialism in the absence of the Soviet “threat”
(of limited de facto containment). To some extent it has, although
the ideological institutions and vested interests in the West still
allow themselves to be manipulated by evolving party lines that
continue to make the pitiful giant merely responding to alleged
threats, sometimes a bit inflated by faulty intelligence. The vast
majority of the global population knows the score, but the substantial
citizens in the West still wear blinders based on ideology, interest,
and mass media subservience to imperial strategies. Let us hope
that they awaken before the U.S. does us in via bombs, induced social
disaster, and counter-revolutionary violence or environmental collapse. 

Ending the Bad Occupation 


he ease with
which the Western establishment accepts a double standard is often
quite humorous. George Bush can state how important it is that we
and France are telling Syria, “You get your troops and your
secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance
to flourish,” without drawing hearty laughs. The

York Times

editorializes that everybody now agrees “in
demanding that Syria stop putting off compliance with the clear
order of the United Nations Security Council to withdraw its 14,000
troops” (“Lebanon for the Lebanese,” March 4, 2005).
Can you imagine this great newspaper with editorials “Iraq
for the Iraqis” or “Palestine for the Palestinians,”
suggesting that the United States and Israel should get out of their
occupied lands to give democracy a chance to flourish, and giving
such credence to UN rulings (or international law—unmentioned
by the


in its numerous editorials on the U.S. invasion-occupation
of Iraq)? Can you imagine it saying that the “main point”
is that “three occupying countries remain in the Middle East:
Syria, Israel, and the United States. The two Western occupiers
are now demanding that the Arab occupying state desist from occupying.
In its honor, they pushed for the Syria Accountability Act—legislation
enabling sanctions to be applied—and UN Security Council Resolution
1559…. The hypocrisy of occupying states is nothing new…[but]
always requires semantic juggling?” (Zvi Bar’el, “End
the occupation—but only in Lebanon,”


, March
6, 2005, 

In the Western mainstream there are no hoots of laughter despite
Bush’s managing an occupation vastly more brutal than Syria’s
in Lebanon and far away from the United States, and following a
devastating aggression based on Big Lies. There is no suggestion
that democracy in Iraq might be impeded by U.S. troops and secret
services staying in that country. Nor do the media point out and
find it funny that Bush can get uptight about the Syrian occupation
while his buddy, the world class terrorist commander Ariel Sharon,
is using a brutal occupation to ethnically cleanse an Arab population
in favor of his chosen people, an ethnic cleansing operation going
on for many years in violation of international law and numerous
UN rulings, with full Bush and predecessor approval. (Syria has
not been stealing Lebanese land, killing resisters on a daily basis,
demolishing thousands of homes and uprooting thousands of Lebanese
olive trees, or building security walls that take still more Lebanese
land into Syria.) These more vicious occupations are taken as givens
in the West and especially in the United States, and new UN demands
on Syria to get out are treated in convenient isolation, with the
double standard in full and effective play. 

Of course, the double standard rests on important considerations:
the United States is good and means well—despite the occasional
mistakes, tragic errors, and misbehavior by a few rotten apples—and
is bringing liberty to the Iraqis, even if by extremely violent
force and in straightforward violation of international law. The
UN Security Council, including the “Old Europe” contingent,
agrees, peremptorily ordering Syria to get out of Lebanon, while
sanctioning the U.S. aggressor’s stay in Iraq as head of a
multinational force (see the Syria-out-of-Lebanon resolution, UNSC
1559, September 2, 2004; and the U.S.- into-Iraq as the head of
the “multinational” force resolution, UNSC 1546, June
8, 2004, The Israelis are also a “good people,”
simply responding and trying to contain terrorism as they swallow
up the land of those terrorists and violate international law on
a daily basis. So it is easy to see that the double standard rests
on a sound basis. 

Iraq’s Demonstration Elections 


ll U.S.-sponsored
elections in Third World countries are treated by the U.S. mainstream
media as positive steps on the march to democracy, no matter how
blatantly they fail to meet the criteria of a free election and
how clearly they serve a strictly public relations function and
fail to disturb the power structure fixed by a military occupation.
The classics of this character were the Vietnam elections of 1966
and 1967, but the El Salvador election of 1982 was another public
relations beauty in which the media helped legitimize brutal military
rule by focusing on voter turnout and ignoring the massive negatives
incompatible with a free election—the absence of freedom of
assembly, speech, and press; sharp limits on the freedom of intermediate
groups to exist and organize; no freedom of dissident candidates
to run and campaign; and a climate of fear and serious ongoing state

The recent Iraq election falls into this pattern, as did the October
9, 2004 election for the presidency of Afghanistan, won handily
by Hamid Karzai, the proconsul installed by the U.S. invading force
in late 2001. In the Iraq case, once again the media focused on
the turnout and insurgent opposition to the election, as proving
its democratic character, exactly as they did in the case of the
patently fraudulent elections in the Dominican Republic, Vietnam,
and El Salvador—but as they failed to do in Nicaragua in 1984
where this would have legitimated the wrong side. 

One major problem with the establishment treatment of the Iraq election
is that it ignores the fact that an occupation in itself affects
and renders ambiguous the meaning of voting. Are the voters expressing
approval of the occupation? Are they adapting pragmatically to choices
forced on them by outsiders who they recognize as holding decisive
power? Are they possibly voting in the hope of ridding themselves
of the occupation? Does the occupying authority exert significant
influence by its military actions, threats, control of government,
imposed laws and rules, media domination, and strategic use of its—and
the occupied country’s—resources? 

 A well-run propaganda system postulates approval, as the media
did for Vietnam and El Salvador, and it fails to discuss the other
possibilities, at least for their own government. President Bush
clearly suggests that the occupation in Lebanon by Syria contaminates
the meaning and results of elections—Syria must leave so that
“democracy has a chance to flourish.” The

New York

editorial on “Lebanon for the Lebanese” suggests
that Syria exercises influence by “twisting the arms of Lebanese
politicians, and the language of Lebanon’s Constitution, to
serve its own interests.” But the


and its media
colleagues never speak of Bremer and Negroponte “twisting arms”
of Iraq politicians and fixing “the language [Iraq’s]
Constitution to serve [U.S.] interests.” 

Doesn’t the Bush administration have “interests”
it wishes to serve apart from the alleged aim of democracy? Don’t
its agents “twist arms?” Don’t they want to keep
those four military bases already in operation and others long planned?
Don’t they have an oil interest? Don’t they want to avoid
a Shiite-dominated state aligned with Iran? Are they prepared to
leave empty-handed after having spent $300 billion of taxpayers’
money on this Iraq campaign? The media don’t address the questions
that would suggest non-benign motives and a strong interest in particular
electoral outcomes. This is deep bias and de facto propaganda service,
dramatized by their continued unwillingness to deal consistently
with the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the U.S. occupation of

The media doesn’t discuss the documentary evidence that oil
and military bases were foremost in the Bush team’s internal
explanations of why Iraq should be targeted and they take the alleged
shift in objective—to liberation—at face value. If they
didn’t evade these points, and were minimally honest, they
would analyze how an invader-occupier can maintain control or substantial
influence, despite and even by means of, an election. They would
examine how the occupation has reshaped the power structure and
political alignments of Iraq in ways that necessarily affect an
election outcome. Briefly, the working government of Iraq is U.S.-appointed,
including both top officials and ministers; the government budget
is U.S.-controlled as are the oil revenues and monies allocated
by the U.S. congress to the Iraq war and reconstruction; and many
locals have benefited from U.S. contracts and sales of state property,
so that a structure of vested interests in the occupation has been
built up and large-scale political patronage has been dispensed
by occupation officials. The dominant media, notably TV, are controlled
by the occupiers and their appointees, and Al-Jazeera has been barred
from Baghdad. The Bush administration has spent substantial resources
advising, training, and giving favorable publicity to their local
political favorites, making for a seriously unlevel playing field
(see Carl Conetta, “The Iraqi Election ‘Bait and Switch’:
Faulty Poll Will Not Bring Peace or US Withdrawal,” January
25, 2005, Many laws and an interim constitution have
been put into effect under the occupation and a new judiciary and
legal structure have been put in place. All of these things mean
massive political leverage.

As to the election, it was organized by the occupation authorities,
which fixed its timetable. The election personnel responsible for
the final vote count were selected by occupation officials and the
Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) under which the election was
held was written under occupation auspices and was designed to meet
U.S. needs. Important in meeting these needs is the limited power
it gives the newly elected assembly, designing it mainly to prepare
for a general election a year hence and organize the preparation
of a constitution to be submitted for popular approval. In the interim
the U.S.-appointed government will run Iraq under U.S.-made laws
and the U.S. military will continue to occupy Iraq, build bases,
attack, kill, and imprison—all outside of Iraqi control. 

TAL is designed to limit Shiite power and make likely stalemate
and compromise by requiring super-majorities, as well as unanimous
agreement by the presidency council for changes in the U.S.-imposed
TAL. TAL gives the Kurds effective veto power over any proposed
constitution. If the newly elected assembly cannot agree on a constitution
a new election will be held, continuing the U.S.-occupation’s
de facto rule for at least another year. 

The need for compromise in negotiations over the new transitional
government was greatly heightened by the fact that the Shiites allegedly
won fewer than 50 percent of the votes and seats in the assembly.
This is a great advantage for the occupation, as its interests are
more easily served with stalemate and negotiations in which its
friends can bargain on its behalf, with stalemate quite acceptable
as it simply extends the period of uncontested occupation rule.
Scott Ritter claims that “well-placed sources in Iraq who were
in a position to know” told him that the Shiites actually won
56 percent of the votes, adjusted downward by the election authorities
to 48 percent to serve occupation needs (“Hijacking Democracy
in Iraq,” Alternet, March 23, 2005, This
is plausible given the Shiite majority status and Sistani’s
urging them to vote. As we might expect, this claim has not been
mentioned and checked out for authenticity by the mainstream media. 

The election deepened the split among the ethnic communities in
Iraq, with the Shiites agreeing to an election run by an occupying
army that was attacking Sunni strongholds with no holds barred,
and therefore giving tacit approval to the occupation’s violence
(and Sistani offered not a word of criticism of the destruction
of Falluja). This has added a civil war to the insurgents’
war against an aggression-occupation (see Thanassis Cambanis, “Fractured
Iraq sees a Sunni call to arms,” This is very
useful to the occupation. The U.S. armed forces are now the Shiites’
army, protecting the Shiite leadership against the insurgency, which
adds greatly to the occupation’s leverage in bargaining for
its future rights to bases and at least some edge in exploiting
Iraq’s oil. 

So the election has been extremely serviceable to Bush and his policies
in Iraq. Its “demonstration” effect has worked well, once
again with media cooperation, and has silenced the easily silenced
Democrats from criticizing the aggression-occupation, now in the
service of Iraqi democracy. An occupation may corrupt democracy
in Lebanon, but when we occupy a country, by patriotic assumption
the fostering of democracy is the end. But just as in Vietnam and
El Salvador, the lies and double standard will serve to provide
a breathing space for more killing—and a lot more killing will
follow. Giving the invader-occupier this breathing space to kill,
and to help assure a continued role for the United States in shaping
the politics of a devastated Iraq, was the purpose of the election,
surely not liberation.

S. Herman is an economist and media critic. He is the author of numerous
books and articles, including

Demonstration Elections

Frank Brodhead).